After kicking off 2012’s New Year’s Run without a hint of rust and some inspired jams, things seemed to take a trip to safer playing on night two. The tight playing and execution from night one continued into Saturday night, but the free-flowing feel of Friday had seemed to wane slightly. Another obvious holdover from the night before was the energy in the Garden remained light years ahead of any ebbs and flows from the band.
The quickest thing of note that emerged in the night was the show’s MVP. Gordon’s leading and premiere playing seemed to follow Mound in the second spot. After serving as the rarity du jour at Deer Creek (after 24 shows), Mound served as the first of two Gordon tunes to fill the first set. It was this Mound that shined the spotlight on Gordon for the rest of the night.
As the band worked through well-played but straightforward versions of AC/DC Bag and Rock and Roll, at least feeding the rock and roll (sorry) and “New York station” frenzy, the band returned to a Gordon groove. Sugar Shack has found itself as one of the rarest tunes from the band’s latest studio album, and a fan favorite of Gordon fans and more.
The set continued, the band stayed on point, getting through the sections of Reba smoothly and engaging the band through Halley’s Comet. While the jam in Limb by Limb didn’t reach St. Louis standards, it did give Fishman a chance to connect with his rhythm section partner through the songs signature percussion-led transitions. A great Yellow Brick Road tease helped this version’s appeal with veteran fans.
The biggest highlight of the set, and perhaps the night, was the set closing Bathtub Gin. For the second night in a row Phish found their full-band groove to close the set, setting up layers and patterns with Type I energy. This version of Bathtub will be remember as a highlight of the night, but also points out the hurry the band seemed to be in. With the amount of changes and sound the band got out of 11 minutes of Bathtub, the patience of night one was an afterthought.
When the house lights went down for set II, the opening notes of Golden Age were teased at in the same fashion as Tweezer the night before, maybe signaling a return to patient playing. While Golden Age did find its usual place as a 3.0 jam vehicle, with opportunity for Type I and Type II jams, the song continues to find new ground in 2012. In this case, perhaps the smoothest part of the jam was actually the end, when Trey led the band into Waves.
As the crowd anticipated where Waves would take the set, the jam unfortunately came to a close just as it found its Gordon and McConnell groove. At this point in the set, the signs had fallen into place that a monster 20-minuter was not going to serve as the second helping from the night before.
Throughout the rest of the set, from fantastic effects and funk grooves from Gordon in Boogie On to unmarked energy in Suzy and 46 Days, the band seemed to be in ADD mode. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Gordon continued to shine. Switching his bass quickly ahead of Boogie On, Gordon was ready to put on a bass clinic, both in finger and effect manipulation. A highlight of the show that may go overlooked was also the start/stop style jam in Boogie On that let Mike and Page shine yet again.
With songs like Bug and Cavern, which usually signal the end of the set, finding their place in the middle of a set, the crowd is in for fun but not something legendary. These ideas seemed to feed off of each other, each song being punchier than its predecessor. I will say that 46 Days was another show highlight, rocking the venue like nothing else that night.
When the band returned for the encore, most people were leaning toward a Character Zero or Show of Life > Loving Cup-esque exclamation point on the night. Squirming Coil provided Page an opportunity to shine, while the rest of the song was the only time when the band wasn’t playing tight.
Every year there are four-night runs complete with anticipation and excitement. Whether it’s a run through the Midwest or New Year’s Eve in Madison Square Garden, there are pieces of sets that are remembered (Bathtub, Golden Age, Mike’s funk in Boogie On, 46 Days) and those that will be critiqued (Waves getting cut off for Caspian). But the important thing to remember is that they are just pieces. In 2012 fans have access to live video of the show and their own version of Pitchfork reviews through Twitter and message boards. The coveted 48-hour rule is more important than ever today. Keep it in mind.
The expectations – while already high following Dick’s 2012 and more – are somehow higher than ever before. Night three is here. Its 12/30 and we all know what can happen on New Year’s Eve Eve. Its time to put your money where your mouth is…